On Tuesday we witnessed that rarity: A big-time hockey player who actually wants to stay a Thrasher. Unlike Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk, Dustin Byfuglien was willing to re-up with the local hockey club. But now we ask: How much longer will the local hockey club be local?
The Thrashers’ corporate brother is having a a lousy year at the box office: The Hawks are 24th among 30 NBA teams in average attendance, down nearly 2,000 paying customers a game over last season. And still that beats the Thrashers, who until lately were positioned to make the playoffs for only the second time in their existence; they’re 28th in the 30-team NHL in attendance.
As if on cue, co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. told esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore on Tuesday night that the Thrashers could indeed sold and moved if the Spirit doesn’t find additional investors/cash soon. “A sense of urgency,” was Gearon’s phrase, and when you hear that from ownership … well, that’s pretty close to “see you later,” is it not?
And there you had it, just another addled day in the life of the Spirit: Hours after Byfuglien re-signs for $26 million over five seasons, Gearon says his group needs money in the worst way. And we imagine, not for the first time, just how it must feel to be a Thrashers fan. The team finally upgrades at general manager and coach and finds a star willing to stick around, and then, from Gearon …
“The reality is we need fans showing up and we need investors, or a primary investor.”
The wonder isn’t that this club draws so few fans but that it still has so many. The wonder is that 13,056 folks (on average) keep supporting this forlorn franchise. Bless their soon-to-be-broken hearts.
By Mark Bradley